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The Rights of the People

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    IS IT ONLY THEORY?

    Another plea, akin to this “little quibble,” was that, even admitting the points against which the opposition was contending, to be really a part of the decision itself, after all it was merely an abstract question of no moment whatever in any practical way. This view was stated by Senator Douglas thus:-ROP 177.3

    “Mr. Lincoln says that this Dred Scott decision destroys the doctrine of popular sovereignty, for the reason that the court has decided that Congress has no power to prohibit slavery in the Territories, and hence he infers that it would decide that the territorial Legislatures could not prohibit slavery there. I will not stop to inquire whether the court will carry the decision that far or not. It would be interesting as a matter of theory, but of no importance in practice.”—Springfield, Ill., Speech, July 17, 1858; Id., pp. 134, 135.ROP 177.4

    “It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may, or may not, go into a territory under the Constitution.... Hence, no matter what the decision of the Supreme Court may be on that abstract question, etc.”-Freeport, Ill., Debate, August 27, 1858; Id., pp. 213, 214.ROP 178.1

    To this, Lincoln replied thus:-ROP 178.2

    “He says this Dred Scott case is a very small matter at most-that it has no practical effect; that at best, or, rather, I suppose, at worst, it is but an abstraction. I submit that the proposition that the things which determines whether a man is free or a slave is rather concrete than abstract. I think you would conclude that it was if your liberty depended upon it, and so would Judge Douglas if his liberty depended upon it.”-Springfield, Ill., Speech, July 17, 1858; Id., p. 157.ROP 178.3

    “A decision of the Supreme Court is made, by which it is declared that Congress, if it desires to prohibit the spread of slavery into the Territories, has no constitutional power to do so. Not only so, but that decision lays down principles which, if pushed to their logical conclusion,-I say pushed to their logical conclusion, would decide that the constitutions of free States, forbidding slavery, are themselves unconstitutional. Mark me, I do not say the judges said this, and let no man say I affirm the judges used these words; but I only say it is my opinion that what they did say, if pressed to its logical conclusion, will inevitably result thus....ROP 178.4

    “Take it just as it stands, and apply it as a principle; extend and apply that principle elsewhere; and consider where it will lead you.... I say, if this principle is established, ... when this is done, where this doctrine prevails, the miners and sappers will have formed public opinion for the slave trade. They will be ready for Jeff. Davis and Stephens and other leaders of that company to sound the bugle for the revival of the slave trade for the second Dred Scott decision, for the flood of slavery to be poured over the free States, while we shall be here tied down and helpless and run over like sheep.”-Columbus, O., Speech, 1859; Id., pp. 460, 478, 480.ROP 178.5

    Such were the main pleas and the answers thereto, upon the merits of the Dred Scott decision. And we say again that every one of these pleas, in very substance, and almost in the very words, is now held and urged in behalf of the Christian nation decision. And the answers of Abraham Lincoln to those pleas in support of that decision in that day, are precisely our answers to these same pleas in support of this decision in this our day. No less than he in that case, do we oppose this decision now and appeal from it. No more than he in that case, do we in this case propose to disturb any right of property, create any disorder, or excite any mobs. No less than he in that case, are we in this case “working on the plan of the founders of the government,” and “fighting it upon these original principles-fighting it in the Jeffersonian, Washingtonian, and Madisonian fashion.” No more now than then ought the people to allow themselves to be made helpless and tied down and run over like sheep.ROP 179.1

    The people in that day arose in their right and reversed that decision, and thus added the force of national precedent to that of national principle and national authority, upon the right of the people to appeal from any Supreme Court decision touching any constitutional question. Will the people in this our day realize the danger of the religious despotism which lurks in this decision as did they in that day the danger of the civil despotism that lay in that decision, and again arise in their right-their right by fundamental principle, by national authority, and by national precedent-and reverse this decision?ROP 179.2

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